The results of the elections in France and Greece have made it abundantly clear that there is a tremendous backlash against the austerity approach that Germany has been pushing. All over Europe, prominent politicians and incumbent political parties are being voted out.
In fact, Nicolas Sarkozy has become the 11th leader of a European nation to be defeated in an election since 2008. We have seen governments fall in the Netherlands, the UK, Spain, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Greece. Whenever they get a chance, the citizens of Europe are using the ballot box to send a message that they do not like what is going on.
It turns out that austerity is extremely unpopular. But if newly elected politicians all over Europe begin rejecting austerity, this puts Germany in a very difficult position. Should Germany be expected to indefinitely bail out all of the members of the eurozone that choose to live way beyond their means? If Germany pulled out of the euro tomorrow, the euro would absolutely collapse, bond yields for the rest of the eurozone would skyrocket to unprecedented heights, and without German bailout money troubled nations such as Greece would be headed directly for default.
The rest of the eurozone is absolutely and completely dependent on Germany at this point. But as we have seen, much of the rest of the eurozone is sick and tired of taking orders from Germany and is rejecting austerity.
A lot of politicians in Europe apparently believe that they should be able to run up gigantic amounts of debt indefinitely and that the Germans should be expected to always be there to bail them out whenever they need it. Will the Germans be willing to tolerate such a situation, or will they simply pick up their ball and go home at some point?
Over the past several years, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have made a formidable team. They worked together to push the eurozone on to the path of austerity, but now Sarkozy is out.
Francois Hollande, the new French president, has declared that the financial world is his “greatest enemy“.
He may regret making that statement.
One of the primary reasons why Hollande was elected was because he clearly rejected the austerity approach favored by the Germans. Shortly after winning the election in France, he made the following statement….
“Europe is watching us, austerity can no longer be the only option”
Hollande says that he wants to “renegotiate” the fiscal pact that European leaders agreed to under the leadership of Merkel and Sarkozy.
But Merkel says that is not going to happen. The following Merkel quotes are from a recent CNBC article….
“We in Germany are of the opinion, and so am I personally, that the fiscal pact is not negotiable. It has been negotiated and has been signed by 25 countries,” Merkel told a news conference.
“We are in the middle of a debate to which France, of course, under its new president will bring its own emphasis. But we are talking about two sides of the same coin — progress is only achievable via solid finances plus growth,” she added.
So instead of being on the same page, Germany and France are now headed in opposite directions.
But if the French do not get their debt under control, they could be facing a huge crisis of their own very quickly. The following is from a recent article by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard….
“They absolutely must cut public spending and control the debt,” said Marc Touati from Global Equities in Paris. “It will soon be clear that we are in deep recession. If they don’t act fast, interest rates will shoot up and we will have a catastrophe by September,” he said.
Without German help, France is not going to be able to handle its own financial problems – much less bail out the rest of Europe.
Germany is holding all of the cards, but much of the rest of the eurozone does not seem afraid to defy Germany at this point.
In Greece, anti-bailout parties scored huge gains in the recent election.
None of the political parties in Greece were able to reach 20 percent of the vote, and there is a tremendous amount of doubt about what comes next.
New Democracy (the “conservatives”) won about 19 percent of the vote, but they have already announced that they have failed to form a new government.
So now it will be up to the second place finishers, the Syriza party (the radical left coalition), to try to form a new government.
Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the Syriza party, is very anti-austerity. He made the following statement the other night….
“The people of Europe can no longer be reconciled with the bailouts of barbarism.”
But at this point, it seems very doubtful that Syriza will be able to form a new government either.
PASOK, the socialists that have been pushing through all of the recent austerity measures, only ended up with about 13 percent of the vote. In the 2009 election, PASOK got 44 percent of the vote. Obviously their support of the austerity measures cost them dearly.
So what happens if none of the parties are able to form a new government?
It means that new elections will be held.
Meanwhile, Greece must somehow approve more than 11 billion euros in additional budget cuts by the end of June in order to receive the next round of bailout money.
Greece is currently in its 6th year of economic contraction, and there is very little appetite for more austerity in Greece at this point.
Citibank analysts are saying that there is now a 50 to 75 percent chance that Greece is going to be forced to leave the euro….
Overall, the outcome of the Greek election shows that it will be very difficult to form a viable coalition and to implement the measures required in the MoU. Particularly, the identification of the 7% GDP of budget savings for 2013 and 2014 by the end of June looks very unlikely to us. As a consequence, in a first step, the Troika is likely to delay the disbursement of the next tranche of the programme. Note that for 2Q 2012, disbursements of €31.3bn from the bailout programme are scheduled. If Greece does not make progress, in a second step, the Troika is likely to stop the programme. If that happens, the Greek sovereign and its banking sector would run out of funding. As a consequence, we expect that Greece would be forced to leave the euro area. With the outcome of the election, to us the probability of a Greek exit is now larger than our previous estimate of 50%, and rises to between 50-75%. However, even after the elections in Greece, France and Germany, we regard the probability of a broad-based break up of the monetary union as very low. We continue to expect that in reaction to Greece leaving the euro area, more far-reaching measures from governments and the ECB would be put in place.
But if Greece rejects austerity that does not mean that it has to leave the eurozone.
There is no provision that allows for the other nations to kick them out.
Greece could say no to austerity and dare Germany and the rest of the eurozone to keep the bailout money from them.
If Greece defaulted, it would severely damage the euro and bond yields all over the eurozone would likely skyrocket – especially for troubled countries like Spain and Italy.
If Greece wanted to play hardball, they could simply choose to play a game of “chicken” with Germany and see what happens.
Would Germany and the rest of the eurozone be willing to risk a financial disaster just to teach Greece a lesson?
But Greece is not the only one that is in trouble.
As I wrote about recently, the Spanish economy is rapidly heading into an economic depression.